• Jayden J Bartlett

Pia Staltari - the Dual State Representative

Not many players can say that they have donned the colours of two of the nation’s biggest football states, unless you are Pia Staltari. Born and raised in Western Australia, Pia became quite the promising prospect for WA footy before moving to Victoria during 2019—but she made sure to bring her love of football across the country with her.

While in Victoria she certainly has not lost her promising prospect status as she has been a consistent performer for the Sandringham Dragons; averaging twelve disposals and five tackles a match during the 2021 NAB League Girls season.

Of course, this is a long way from where she first picked up a football, in both time and distance, because Pia’s footballing journey began with AusKick at age five. From here, she then went on to play with the boys at the Marist Football Club.

“… Growing up there weren’t to many options or pathways for girls footy. When I was just starting out the only options was to play with the boys.”

“During AusKick there were a few girls that played but as we got older less and less girls came back each year. For most of my time at Marist I was the only girl in the team.”

Pia got to experience premiership success during her final year with the Marist Football Club then, after turning 12, she left to join the Claremont Football Club—which kicked off her next promising chapter.

“When I moved to Claremont it was amazing to see the number of girls that were playing. Most of which had picked footy up much later in life.”

“There weren’t too many girls that had been playing footy since they were little like me.”

From academy selections to state selections, Pia’s football rapidly reached new heights during her time with Claremont.

“Whilst playing for Claremont I was lucky enough to be a part of the State Academy as well as the West Coast Academy which are some experiences I will always remember.”

From 2016 to 2018, Pia also got to represent the Western Australian state U15s and U16s. Getting to travel “with the team to Adelaide and Queensland” is still one of her favourite footballing moments to this day. During these years she also played alongside “a few girls who got drafted to West Coast and Freo” which has only helped inspire Pia more.

“… Bella Lewis is one of my best friends and watching her do as well as she can has only inspired me to work hard. It’s awesome to watch girls who you’ve become really close with play at the highest level.”

Unknown at the time, but Bella would go onto claim West Coast’s 2021 Best and Fairest during her debut AFLW season—an impact that Pia has the potential to mirror.

'Days on the West Coast' - image kindly supplied by Pia (Pictured left).

After a decade of playing football in Western Australia, both her football and life changed as her family moved to Victoria. Moving from the west coast to the east coast, it took some time for the young gun to settle in.

“It certainly was a big change I was very reluctant at first and had some difficulties settling as I didn’t know anyone. It took a little bit of time to find my feet in a new school and new footy team.”

“The biggest change was probably being in the Dragons program and the change in professionalism. I met some amazing people who made the move a bit easier and were very supportive.

“A bit challenge was not having any of my family other than my mum dad and brother. My older sister decided to stay in Perth. I am happy in Melbourne now and look forward to the next chapters that are coming up.

“All in all, I think the move has allowed to me to be open to new things and being able to adapt to changes.”

Choosing to play with the St Bedes/Mentone Tigers during the NAB League Girls off-season, Pia proved that she didn’t leave her footy skills back in Western Australia as she claimed the Tigers’ 2019 Best and Fairest.

As well as local level football and adjusting to life in Melbourne, Pia overcame the early nerves of joining a new side and has since began making her presence felt with the Sandringham Dragons.

“It has been great; I was really lucky to be able to join the program when I first came to Melbourne because of my involvement in the state programs back in Perth.”

I was very shocked at first at the increase in intensity of the program and had to step up my training to meet that level. After a few weeks I began to meet more and more people which was really great.

“This year (2021) we had an amazing squad, and we all came together and bonded quickly with the new coaches. After the pandemic all of us girls were really excited to get back into it and start playing some games.

“Although we didn’t have the best of luck on the scoreboard we certainly developed as a team and on our individual performance.

“All in all, I am very grateful to have been able to be a part of such a great club and have developed in many areas both on and off the field.”

'The Mighty Dragons' - image kindly supplied by Pia (pictured second left)

Moving away from where she grew up to a new city, and to play for a new and professional club, this experience mirrors what AFLW draftees that move interstate go through—albeit, Pia was younger than the draft age when she went through this.

From weather to traffic, life in WA compared to Victoria is noticeably different, but Pia was also quick to notice the difference in football structures and pathways.

“The WAWFL was the main league where girl’s talent was noticed. Whereas in Victoria I was surprised to see the different number of leagues there were.”

Keeping in mind that it was during 2019 that Pia moved to Victoria and, unfortunately, we all know what happened to Victorian football during 2020.

“It was pretty hard, when I was at school I used footy as a break from school and homework. So, when we were told it was cancelled for the year it was pretty rough.”

“Rather than just sitting at home and eating ice cream I decided to put my spare time to good use, and I would head down to the park and just have a kick and do a bit of running.

“I turned the garage into a mini home gym so I could do some strength work as well. Let’s just say it was an awesome feeling when they told us we got to start playing again.”

After putting in the extra work to stay fit during the league suspension, this dedication paid off when she was able to return to play—although she had to adjust to the new rules.

“… Even though we didn’t get the win it still felt pretty good to just be able to run around again. It was a bit strange with all the rules in place like the no handshakes and not being able to huddle up before the game.”

This dedication and passion to stay fit continued to pay off long after footy resumed, with Pia earning a spot on the Victoria Metro U19s side this year for the 2021 National Championships.

'Pia and Bella Lewis (pictured right)' - image kindly supplied by Pia.

The whole representing two states thing brings us back to the beginning of this article, but this is certainly a feat worth mentioning—as it is the first time we’ve come across this combination in women’s footy.

“It is a bit strange lots of people are confused at first when I say I used to verse Victoria now I play for them.”

“I thought that playing against WA a few weeks ago would be strange but when I ran onto the ground it just felt as if we were versing another team.

“Before the game I said hi to some of the girls I knew from the under 15s comp when we played together but after that I was focused on getting the win for Vic.

“I definitely never thought that I would ever put on the ‘Big V’ jumper when I was in Perth and when I moved to Melbourne and got told I was in the team it was pretty strange but also a pretty great feeling and a cool thing to be able to say I've represented two states.”

What is the next chapter for this Exciting Dragon Prospect?

“Being my draft year this year a big goal of mine would be to get drafted. Growing up there was never a pathway for girls to pay at the elite level like the boys.”

“When the AFLW started up the idea of one day being able to potentially play at that level became a long-time goal for me.

“I know I’ve got things to improve before I’m up to that level. Being able to improve my endurance and fitness is a smaller goal that I’ve got which I think will take my performance to the next level.”

Having represented two states in football and considering how minimal the move across the country seemed to affect her football—Pia Staltari certainly has the drive and skill to join the seven Sandringham girls that were drafted last year.

Looking back at the early years of her football journey, her advice to her five-year-old self would have been “probably that I won’t have to hang around the boys for too much longer and that there are going to be some amazing opportunities soon”.

“Keep at it and enjoy every moment on the wild ride. Keep at it and dream big.”

And if she continues to keep at it and dream big today, the sky is practically the limit for this dual state representative.

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Article #179

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None of these photographs are owned by MWM; all images have been supplied by the player and have been personally shot.

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